November 12, 2015

Ethnic Studies Now!

by Amy Li
ALLY Leader and Sophomore at Franklin High School

Since I was little my mom has told me stories about what it was like for her in China as a kid and when she had just arrived to America. The stories she tells me about when she was in China were always happy and funny. Although the stories about her in America were funny, they always involved her inability to understand most of what people are saying. When she had just arrived to America she went to school not knowing any English. It always made me wonder about the struggles people had to face and how they shape this society as they started their life here.

I am a sophomore in high school and I still have barely learned anything about my people and history and what we’ve done in this country. Sixth grade was the first time I learned about people like me, but all we did was make a poster. I also made a little booklet of the inventions from China, but that was only for extra credit. Eigth grade was the only other time where I learned about U.S. history, in general.

U.S. history is really Euro-centric, so I never really thought people like me had any important contributions. I know that there were a lot of different ethnic groups that came to America that have made major contributions to our country. U.S. history should include the contributions from these different communities of color because these people are a very important part of the development of our history as a nation.

I feel like right now, the things we learn in U.S. history isn’t really reflective of a lot of people. As a youth leader in ALLY (API Leaders for the Liberation of Youth), we started a campaign for Ethnic Studies called “Missing Pages of our History.” With an increasing population of students of color in Portland Public Schools, with approximately of 46% enrolled high school students in 2014 being non-white students, still very few Portland Public High Schools offer an Ethnic Studies class. ALLY leaders have stated because our histories aren’t reflected in our textbooks, it’s harder to stay engaged and be successful in school. Because most curriculum is Euro-centric, students of color may never have the opportunity to learn about the contributions of our communities in the U.S.

ALLY believes that by offering Ethnic Studies in schools, students of color will get to learn about their histories and communities, which can raise the self-worth of students of color, develop political, social, and critical consciousness, help combat racism, foster empathy and understanding, and connect and learn our shared struggles and experiences. By offering these classes in other school districts in the country, data has shown that students enrolled in Ethnic Studies classes raise their GPA’s, reduce the number of unexcused absences, and graduate at higher rates.

ALLY hopes to work with the Board of Education to draft a resolution to create a plan to implement at least one Ethnic Studies class in every Portland Public High School within 4 years.

ALLY youth are also proposing that:
1) Ethnic Studies classes fall under the Social Studies Program (a graduation requirement)
2) All ethnic studies classes include:

- Asian studies
- Black studies
- Latin@ studies
- Pacific Islander studies
- Arab studies
- Native studies
- QTPOC studies

3) All classes focus on our histories of oppression and resistance
4) During the 4 years, students, parents, and teachers will help shape what these classes look like

If you'd like to support our campaign, you can donate to our crowdfunding campaign. Help us raise $10,000! As part of our fundraising campaign, we hope to raise money to:

- Help fund our weekly meetings and feed our youth
- Hold educational and cultural workshops for our communities
- Send our leaders to trainings and work with other groups locally and nationally

Thank you for your support!